“The Lost Generation” in Burma: when the junta attacks children

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Published July 8, 2022
Updated July 8, 2022




Demonstrations against the coup in Yangon. (Source: Gephardt Daily)

Military attacks on children in Burma are targeted and systematic. The younger generations are not only secondary victims of the armed conflict that has set the country on fire and bloodshed since the coup. They are also targets of the military junta, which is thus attacking the very future of its country. It condemns a UN report which calls on the international community to respond as strongly as in the Ukrainian crisis.

“At 1 o’clock at night the camp was shelled. My two daughters were among the victims. They were sisters. I do not know if a piece of shrapnel or the bomb itself fell between them. Both were thrown in different directions. Their bellies and lower bodies were torn. break. “

The story of this father, who lost his two daughters aged 12 and 15 in one night in a bombing of a refugee camp, is unfortunately not the only one that reveals the military junta’s horrific actions against the people of Burma. On the contrary, the UN Human Rights Council recently revealed in a shocking report published during its 50th session: The military attacks committed on children in Burma are targeted and systematic. The younger generations are therefore not only secondary victims of this armed conflict, which is burning Burma to death. They are also targets of the military junta, which is thus attacking the very future of its country.

Lust for control and legal nonsense

The alarming text from the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, published on 13 June, has nevertheless gone unnoticed in the constant stream of news that is saturating the media and social networks. But using numerous figures and numerous testimonies from children, young people and divided families, this report reveals the scale of the humanitarian and economic crisis that Burmese children in particular have suffered since the 2021 coup.

In fact, since the military junta forcibly dismissed the civilian government in Aung San Suu Kyi in an attempt to enforce its law in Burma, the country has fallen into a conflict between soldiers and civilians. Several protests and civil disobedience movements broke out after the coup. Response from Tatmadaw: a bloody repression that caused the deaths of thousands of civilians, a number to be revised upwards once the chaos is over.

Among these victims, 382 children were killed or wounded, of whom 60% were shot and 142 were tortured. This reality of the conflict highlights Tatmadaw’s desire to inflict lasting suffering on the people, over which it has claimed strict political control for decades. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit organization that monitors military repression in Burma from Thailand, 39 children under the age of 10 are also detained as “political prisoners” legal nonsense for such young minors.

The Burmese junta justifies these attacks and arrests with the presence of children among the protesters or anti-junta militias. However, the argument runs counter to the basic principles of humanitarian law, which clearly prescribe the prohibition against harming children’s lives and physical integrity in wartime. While persons under the age of 15 should not be able to take up arms for any of the sides, the Liberation Army or the military junta, it is also certain that their detention is legal nonsense under international law and even nationally. The presence of young people under the age of 15 among the various non-state armed groups nevertheless complicates their protection and serves as an excuse for the military to shoot arbitrarily at civilians without distinction.

But the disturbing figures revealed by the UN report confirm this: Not only are the army’s demands certainly qualified as crimes against humanity, but they also illustrate an assumed cruelty to maintain a semblance of control over a sinking country.

Disastrous humanitarian situation

“A disturbing fact remains: no one knows the true extent of the suffering of children and their families at the hands of the junta,” warns the author of the report from the first page. Similarly, the long-term consequences of this conflict for future generations cannot yet be fully understood.

The current humanitarian situation for Burmese children is catastrophic. According to the UN report, 4.5 million of them would live in a state of food insecurity, and 5 million would need humanitarian assistance. In addition, the conflict cut 7.8 million of them out of their schooling. The needs are all the more colossal as the coup and civil war have exacerbated pre-existing socio-economic frailties that are already endangering Burmese children and young people and compromising their future. Burma has also been hit hard by the Covid-19 health crisis, poorly managed by the new government, which centralizes a large part of its medical and humanitarian resources. As early as 2021, the UN assessed that the pandemic risked doubling the number of people living below the poverty line in the country, especially women and children.

By 2022, the socio-economic situation does not appear to be improving: inflation has made certain foods inaccessible, households have gone into debt and electricity and internet networks are regularly broken down. The withdrawal of large companies from Burmese territory, despite having signed an international act of protest against military repression, has also contributed to the downturn in the economy, investment and employment. These serial departures also pave the way for Chinese companies whose failure to comply with social and environmental standards is unlikely to improve the situation in many Burmese territories. For high school students, graduates and young graduates, the prospects will be even worse, and for families, the means of providing for their children will be even more reduced. The drop-out rate after the conflict has reached alarming heights, and the most affected children are children from the country’s minorities, such as the Karenis and the Rohingya.

Result: the ethnic and social rupture, the cause of the country’s insecurity for decades, risks being exacerbated by the conflict. Minority children, who were already in extremely vulnerable situations before the coup, are all the more exposed to the risk of human trafficking, arranged marriages and physical and sexual violence. Residential areas and refugee camps in the states of Kachin, Kayah and Rakhine are special targets for artillery attacks and shelling. The junta has also arrested and detained hundreds of Rohingya children, Burma’s stateless people, for “illegal travel” while the latter tried to flee the state of Rakhine, where they sought refuge or were forcibly imprisoned in unhygienic and now bombed camps. It is in this political, economic and social context that an entire generation must build its future.

Acts to save the future of a generation

This UN report is not only intended to move and shock the reader over the atrocities committed by the Junta on the most vulnerable and innocent part of the population. It highlights the deliberate sabotage of the future of the country itself and encourages action.

Young people bravely fight alongside pro-democracy fighters, as their parents did during the 1988 student mobilizations, which were also severely suppressed. But the Burmese government in exile does not seem to be able to help them. In a retrospective from February 2022, Radio France reports Burmese Energy Minister Mau Htun Aung’s comments on this topic:

“It is true that the central government is not capable of helping young warriors. They have every right to be disappointed, but it is also due to the fact that we have not received any support from democratic countries, which, although they loudly greets the courage of the Burmese people, does not provide any real help. “

An attitude shared by the Special Rapporteur of Burma, for whom the response of the international community is still insufficient. In particular, its report highlights that only 10.4% of the necessary assistance has currently been allocated to the country. It also urges states not to forget the Burmese crisis: Monopolized by the Ukrainian conflict, which has caused its share of atrocities, many democracies have in fact turned their attention back to Europe.

Nevertheless, there are solutions to help the population and protect their children in the short, medium and long term. The report’s recommendations focus on various ways to prevent the junta’s funding. Targeted sanctions already exist, but they can go further. Several activists and researchers have called on governments to impose sanctions on Myanmar’s gas sector. The state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which fell into the hands of the junta, makes it possible to fund a large part of its army and its supply of weapons. In this specific case, cutting off this flow of money would directly reduce violence against civilians.

For its part, the flow of humanitarian aid must not just be increased. It is also necessary to find intelligent procedures to avoid confiscation from the armed forces, a particular ethnic group or local authorities. This assistance must also take into account the special needs of suffering populations, especially families and children from minorities. Humanitarian corridors must be secured and populations whose movements have been prevented from being evacuated. Education and information must be resumed for all as soon as possible, for we can still prevent these children from joining the ranks of the “lost generations”.

Do not let cruelty pass. All the more so when it is aimed at a youth who are determined to protect the fragile remnants of democracy in their country, despite the savagery they face.

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About the author

Eléa Beraud, educated in Sciences Po Paris and INALCO, is passionate about the history and culture of Japan, where she lived, studied and worked. She is also interested in humanitarian challenges in Southeast Asia, security issues in the South China Sea and the geopolitical consequences of climate change.

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